GUEST BLOG: LEAH ST. JAMES

By all outward appearances, I’m a WYSIWYG person—you know, What You See Is What You Get. I cry when I’m sad, laugh when I’m happy, and frown when I’m angry. In short, card sharks would be happy to be seated across from me at a poker table! At least that’s the “me” known to casual friends and acquaintances. To those people, I appear to be lighthearted, quick to joke, quick to laugh, usually polite and even-tempered. That’s the public me. Many of them have never met the writer me.
The writer me is someone whose thoughts are rarely shared and never vocalized in polite society.  The writer me sees something in my neighborhood or in the news, reads something in the paper, and breaks that event down into components—setting, characters, actions, motives, emotions—and analyzes each. How would it feel to be in that situation? What would I do? How would it affect the rest of my life? What would a different character do, think, feel? 
When in writer mode, I don’t judge, I study, and many times I’m fascinated by what I find: lifestyles that might have been beyond my comprehension a day or two earlier, points of view I never would have considered. Over time, these revelations have helped me create characters that are far outside the realm of my everyday reality. Some of them share my personal values, but some do not. Some are nasty, just plain bad people who say really bad words and do really bad things, and that’s what surprises casual friends and acquaintances most when they read my work.
They expect the writer Leah, and by association her characters, to sound and act like the person they know. They wouldn’t be surprised at a flash of anger here or there, an occasion sneer of contempt, but they certainly wouldn’t expect to find violence, foul language or, help me, graphic sex. Yet each of those elements has found a home in my writings at one time or another, sometimes all at once.  
When I launched my debut novel this past summer, I was overwhelmed by the support and encouragement of so many. It humbled me, and worried me at the same time because I knew that some of the story elements would be distasteful to some in my group of friends. Surrender to Sanctuary is a romantic suspense about two FBI agents who go under cover in an adult (BDSM) club to solve a murder, and while the book is not erotica, some of the content might be more erotic than some can handle. So as I thanked my friends, I tried to warn them as well. “It’s not what  you’d expect,” I’d say. “It’s not politically correct.  And it’s gritty. So if you’re looking for fluff, don’t read my book!” Some of them paid attention, others didn’t. 
After the book’s release, I’d typically get one of two reactions: Either, “OMG, you’re an amazing writer! Loved, loved, loved the book!” or… “Leah! Leah! OMG Leah, how could you write this stuff?!” Naturally I’d bask in the first response. But that second? At first I wanted to run, to hide where no one could find me. I started asking myself, How could I write that stuff? Is something wrong with me? Is there some secret perversion hiding inside my soul, badgering to escape, to inflict itself on the unsuspecting populace around me? It got to the point where I stopped telling people about the book, the equivalent of the kiss of death to a writing career.
Luckily, after a while, that sense of shame got old. After a while I became annoyed with the tongue lashings from so many that “you’re better than that.” After a while, I’d had enough. Who the heck are you, I’d say in my imaginary response, to tell me what I can and can’t write about? Who are you to tell me what is and isn’t acceptable, what is and isn’t good enough? True, the book has some gritty parts, but at its essence it is a love story, a story of self-sacrifice, a story of good vs. evil. And it’s pure fiction.
I think that’s when I truly became a writer at heart—the point where I got it. I’m telling a story, about imaginary people and events. I’m not  writing my autobiography. I don’t use that language (at least not too often), but my characters might.  I certainly would never intentionally inflict bodily or emotional harm on the innocent, but my characters might. As for the graphic sex…hey, what goes on between two consenting adults is no one’s business .
So if you’re aspiring to be “a writer,” don’t be afraid to let those demons loose. Don’t be afraid to bare your soul. Don’t be afraid to let your characters speak and act. Be true to the voice in your head. For every person who’s shocked by your words, by the action taking place, there will be another who says, “OMG, you’re an amazing writer. I loved, loved, loved the story!”
Happy reading, and writing!
Leah St. James
 
Leah’s fascination with all things written began when she picked up her first Dr. Seuss book, and she has rarely been seen without a novel, or pen and paper, close at hand since. She enjoys delving into the deepest of human emotions—love and hate, bravery and cowardice, joy and despair—and how we, as human beings, relate to each other. Her greatest hope is to touch her readers’ hearts and help them experience the joy that only love can bring.
Married with two grown sons, Leah is a native of the beautiful Central Jersey Shore but now enjoys the peace and quiet of Virginia’s Hampton Roads. 
Visit Leah at www.leahstjames.com
Leah’s debut novel, Surrender to Sanctuary, is available at The Wild Rose Press, amazon.com, and other on-line book sellers. For more information about Leah and her writing, please visit her at http://www.leahstjames.com.

Comments

  1. Thanks so much for having me today! I hope everyone has a wonderful Friday!
    Leah

  2. Leah,
    I loved your post. Since I write erotica, I get the “OMG” factor from a lot of people who don’t see the “real me” like that. We write fiction! Great job!

  3. Yes, yes, yes! Writers have an imagination and they have to write authentically. That means you can worry about ANY critics. Readers know when an author is censoring their own souls.

  4. I went through the same thing–it can be so tiring, to the point where it might be better if friends and family didn’t read my books. So I totally relate!

  5. I am not a writer, so I don’t think of things the way that a writer does — however, I’m quite capable of separating the writer from what s/he has written. I wonder about people who can’t. I, too, am a WYSIWYG kind of person, but that doesn’t mean that everyone knows every single aspect of me and my personality. I’m sure they’d be surprised by some of it. As you’ve discovered, though — if you’re happy with the person you are, then what THEY think is incidental.

  6. Leah, I loved your post. I’m just starting to go through this. I’m so sweet and fluffy looking that everyone assumed I was writing inspirational romance. Um, no! I write romance novels with sex. They will just have to deal with it.

  7. Hey, everyone – I’ve been stuck in my cubby at my day job all morning and am just now getting to check in. Thanks for all the great comments and feedback!

    I think people can generally separate authors from their fiction, but when the writer is someone they know, it’s tough for them, and it’s frustrating for the writer.

    I mean, no one would ever suspect Truman Capote of committing horrific murders to be able to portray a murderer, would they? (I still get the shivers thinking about “In Cold Blood”!)

    Thanks again, everyone, for your thoughts and comments! I enjoyed them. (And I’m feeling quite vindicated!) 🙂

    Leah

  8. Hi Leah,
    Great topic!! My books are super spicy. It’s all fantasy and imagination, of course, but I’ve gotten the same OMG reaction from some people. Thankfully I’ve also gotten several responses where the reader admitted that the steamy sex scenes turned her on so much that she attacked her husband after reading the book–every night for a week! And if my books can inspire love and affection within a marriage as well as provide entertainment, then I think I might just keep writing them. 🙂

  9. Too funny, Lia!

    Now that you mention it…it wouldn’t be a bad idea for the men/husbands to read a few of these books. Might give them some good material! 🙂

  10. Great post. When my book was first released, there were some people I thought I had to explain my bookd to. I’d say, “You know it’s about vampires. Right?” Or “There are sex scenes.” I’d even tell people, “I don’t care if you read it or not. Just buy it.” And I’d laugh. Now, the only warning people get is: “I write romance novels and they’re good.” If they don’t agree with me, I hope they keep their opinions to themself. lol!

  11. I like the way you think, Lilly! 🙂

  12. Thanks again to LASR/Whipped Cream for letting me visit today. Thanks also to everyone who stopped by. I enjoyed reading everyone’s thoughts!

    Hope everyone has a wonderful weekend. 🙂
    Leah

  13. Leah,

    I am thrilled that you got past the shame that others were trying to force on you. I am looking forward to seeing your name on more books in the future.

  14. Thank you, Susilien!

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